We crowd round the winner. 'Any advice for bald people out there?'

DICKIE FANTASTIC on the schmooze
It is Thursday, and the grand climax - after four long, arduous years - of the Hair Grower of the Year competition. Today, one man, deemed to have most successfully grown his hair back from baldness, will receive a check for pounds 10,000 from Radio 2's Ken Bruce at a star-studded media event at the Savoy. And what a long, crazy four years it's been. Since 1992, hundreds of contestants from across the country have been drinking 1 1/2 litres of water while hanging upside-down by their feet and thinking non- stressful thoughts. And the finalists certainly look non-stressed. Still bald, admittedly, but non-stressed.

"Think of them as like the Wright brothers," says hair-growing svengali Andy Bryant. "The Wright brothers only flew for 59 seconds. But they showed that it could be done."

"But they're still bald," I say.

"No they're not," says Andy. "Look."

He shows me a "before" photograph of James Oldham. He looks semi-bald. Then he points to a semi-bald man in the crowd.

"That's James now," he says.

"Still semi-bald," I mutter.

"Half a centimetre on average!" says James. "That's how much his hair has grown back. The tip of the nose to the hairline measurement has remained a constant 14.5cm, but the width of the bald crown has reduced from 8.5cm to 6cm. And that's something."

And I guess it is, when they said it couldn't be done. But four years for half a centimetre, when a trip to the wig shop takes mere minutes, if they're so hair self-absorbed... Who can understand people sometimes? But today, the nation's media are at least trying to understand. I rather thought I'd be the only journalist here, and would consequently be compelled to make awkward small-talk with deluded bald men for hours. But the room is packed. There are hundreds of us here.

And when the judging actually starts, and the contestants sit in a chair while four besuited experts crowd around each bald pate and run their fingers through the remaining hair, testing for shine, viscosity, density, and the like, and 200 journalists are giggling like children underneath their hands; well - I can't think of anyone in the world I'd like to be less than a grand-finalist in the Hair Grower of the Year contest. The assertively unstressed competitors suddenly start to appear decidedly tense, and the terrible irony could be that, after four years of hanging upside-down and eating the right sorts of vegetables, all that good work could be undone by one high-profile media day at the Savoy, followed by an awful, ignoble evening of being the funny story at the end of the news.

The winner turns out to be James Oldham, and we crowd around and pretend to be genuinely excited.

"How do you feel?"

"Great."

"Any advice for bald people out there?"

"I did it, and so can you."

"What's the secret of your success?"

"No stress, hanging upside-down, drinking 1 1/2 litres of water, and eating the right sorts of vegetables."

"Any message for people with wigs?"

"I did it and so can you."

And so on.

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